Monday, April 8, 2013

Spring Favorite

Wolfgang Laib, Pollen from Hazelnut, at NYC's MoMA.

I took this picture on my iPhone a couple months ago at NY's Museum of Modern Art. An 18x21-foot installation in the building's main atrium, the shape appeared to radiate, a dense field of low vaporous light. Visitors from January through March walked around this gorgeous, luminous square on the floor - it was like being inside a Rothko painting. At first I thought it actually was light projected from above. Then I realized it was some kind of powder ... a video on the wall explained it was POLLEN, from plants.

Of course - what else could pulse with that kind of vibrant color but the stuff of life itself?

Wolfgang Laib spends quiet months among the fields around his home in southern Germany gently tapping the sides of tree branches in spring and summer, collecting the pollen that sifts down for installations like this. In tune with the natural sequence of the seasons, he harvests the pollen on each tree or flower when it's in bloom, beginning with hazelnut, moving on to dandelion and other flowers, and finally ending with pine.  

Later he will spoon the materials onto a flat surface in the form of a public work of art, the size of which is determined by the season's yield of pollen. They envelope the viewers who walk around them, often in a sort of jubilant trance. To Laib the artwork is the pollen itself, but the entire process is clearly a form of spiritual mediation.

The work has a strange simplicity (a single color and the square being such a basic geometrical figure). Laib's humble and devotional orientation to his time-consuming process and its inherent natural symbolism trumps the shock value of installations I've seen weighed down by more aggressive agendas and theoretical trappings.

There's a personal connection for the artist of course, and as he explains, it has to do with being surrounded by a great deal of death during his early years as a medical student. This work, then, is an earnest embrace and celebration of the energy of life - a fitting tribute to spring.

You can watch the short wall video and get more information about Laib on MoMA's exhibit website.


  1. Wow, the color is intense.

    Makes me wonder - is pollen ever used for pigment? The sides of my house are often yellow in the spring from pollen.

    I can't help but also wonder if collecting all this pollen disrupts the plant fertility in his neighborhood?

  2. Katherine- I don't know if you could use pollen as a paint pigment - it seems like it might break down or something but what do I know? I'm not a chemist. I bet that Laib's got the fertility thing covered - he probably does the pollinating himself, like a white-clad zen bee!

  3. Not a good place if you are allergic to pollen, but it looks beautiful, similar to the work of Anish Kapoor who had an exhibition recently at the Sydney Museum of Contemporary Art. You can see some of his works on the website:
    I like the idea of a zen bee, spreading pollen all over the world,I think Laib was thinking more about the aesthetics rather than botany or ecology, but who knows? Merilyn Tandukar

  4. Yes, Anon! I love Kapoor's Cloudgate in Chicago -what a whimsical and interesting sculpture - it's like a bubble in the skin of humanity's perceptual space.

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